Columbia Retreats on Hockey Suspension, but Problems Remain

October 5, 2006

As announced in today’s press release, Columbia University’s Athletics Department reversed its season-long suspension of the Men’s Ice Hockey Club in reaction to mounting public scrutiny and criticism, reinstating the club for the fall semester. While the department’s decision will allow the club to compete this season, new punishments have been substituted in place of the suspension.

Specifically, the club is now required to “acknowledge[] that the recruiting poster may have caused potential insult to some members of the Columbia community” and “make a written public apology to the Columbia community for the publication of the recruiting flyers.” It must be remembered that the club formally apologized in a statement released to the Columbia Spectator before any punitive action was taken by the department; requiring another apology smacks of administrative muscle-flexing.

Equally troubling is that the club will now be required to participate in “leadership training session(s),” covering, but not limited to, “communications, team-building, accountability and leadership succession.” Training sessions like this may serve as pretense for a kind of Orwellian thought reform training, wherein participants are taught that certain speech is “bad” and unacceptable. Apparently, such top-down dictation of what thoughts and statements Columbia students are allowed to engage in is in vogue at the university: the Spectator reported last week that members of student government are drafting a “Community Principles document” to promote “civility” on campus.

Most disappointing, however, is Columbia’s continued insistence that the matter was not a free speech issue, and its telling inability to address its own culpability. At no point does the department’s press release address the underlying issues of free speech that prompted the controversy surrounding the decision. The closest the university gets to admitting fault is its statement that “[i]t appears that there may have been miscommunication of existing Club Sports policy and procedures between the Club Sports Program and the Men’s Ice Hockey Club.”

The real miscommunication, it seems, was on the part of Columbia President Lee Bollinger. While publicly affirming Columbia’s commitment to freedom of speech in noble terms—writing in 2004 that “Columbia is fully committed to upholding academic integrity and freedom of expression,”—Bollinger has again disappointed those members of the Columbia community and the larger public who believed his actions might this time match his rhetoric.

Schools:  Columbia University